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Family Circle 2010 Fiction Contest: "The Ravens Are Leaving the Tower"

In Paris, I sit at an open café by the Eiffel Tower and pull out my third postcard.

The Seine is a dark vein that moves slowly through the sprawled out city, I write. Eliza had shoved her sleeves up the night before I left, revealing her purple and green bruised skin. I'm turning into a California raisin, she'd said, laughing.

I eat my ham and butter sandwich on thick French bread and inhale the cool air. I look up and see an owl perched on a streetlight. His head sways from side to side, but his eyes never move.

"Can I sit?"

I look down to see a boy standing over me, blond hair hanging in his face. There are three empty chairs beside me, and nearly every other table is full.

"Fine," I say, though I'm sure he can tell the displeasure in my voice. His name is Michael, he tells me. He's nineteen, from Seattle, and doing a semester abroad in Paris. Later, I write that Michael is French with thick eyelashes and long, wavy hair. I write that when I'd showed him her picture, he said, Magnifique.

The non-postcard version goes like this: We sit in uncomfortable wicker chairs and swallow each chewy piece of bread with a swig of water. I wait for my check for too long and when the café lights come on, illuminating Michael's open and uncomplicated American boy face, I throw my money on the table and say goodbye.

I have two assignments for Paris: ride the elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower at night and have a picture taken of me standing beside the Mona Lisa, imitating her enduring smile. At the top of the Tower, I'm unsure of what to do so I take pictures of the tops of houses and the lights. So many lights.

On the ground again, I go in a souvenir store to buy something for Eliza, but everything I see is useless. What would she do with an Eiffel Tower pencil holder? A Mona Lisa magnet?